Written Sept. 1, 2007
By Walidah Imarisha
Another name sadly has to be added to the litany of conscious prisoners sent to their death by this government. In the tradition of Shaka Sankofa, Tookie Williams and many others, Hasan Shakur was murdered by the state of Texas Aug. 31, and pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m.
The execution came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected three appeals and requests for reprieves, based on affidavits stating evidence that Shakur’s co defendant Jermain Herron was the one to commit the actual murder, and an affidavit detailing jury misconduct during his original trial.
Shakur (Derrick Frazier, formerly number 999284) was sentenced to death in October of 1998, at the age of 20. He was convicted of killing Betsey and Cody Nutt. Shakur maintained his innocence in the murders until the very end, even when they had him strapped down to the death chamber gurney: "I've professed my innocence for nine years and I will continue to profess my innocence for another nine years.”
While the victim’s family cheered when he was pronounced dead, only his wife and support coordinator Debbie Frazier was there to support him physically. Shakur told her to stay strong and that he would love her forever, and tried to get her to smile even as they slid the needle into his arm.
Though only his wife was there to express her love in person, Shakur knew that there were many around the world, who he called “lovers of freedom,” who were with him, and he knew he was following in the tradition of radicals, rebels and revolutionaries who had gone before him.
Shakur’s last words show where his heart and mind was at. They were not pleas for himself. His last words were: "Tell my people we must continue on. Do not give up the fight. Do not give up hope. We can make it happen.”
Shakur’s entire life was patterned on these words, and he died the way he lived, thinking about freedom and justice not for himself but for all people.
Tom Big Warrior, member of the Red Heart Warriors Society and political acitivist, said of Shakur, “And like his living mentor, former BPP/BLA political prisoner/prisoner of war, Russell "Maroon" Shoats, Hasan did not fear his death, nor was he afraid to go on living, because he had found a purpose to his life and death - REVOLUTION! He was prepared to meet the enemy standing on his feet, standing tall! Because in life or death he stood for the people!”
In his 9 years on death row, Shakur transformed himself into a political organizer, prison activist and revolutionary. He founded Operation LIFE, an organization and newsletter to improve conditions in and out of prison, and he founded the HRC Texas branch of the Human Rights Coalition, a prisoner family organizing group. He organized anti-violence concerts, events, meetings, provided guidance and support, networking, strategic planning and visioning for a number of different organizations.
He also served as the Minister of Human Rights for the New African Black Panther Party (NABPP), a recent organization who work in the principles of the original Black Panther Party. “Though widely separated and locked away in cages, [these black prisoners] are moving forward together to transform the iron houses of oppression into ‘schools of liberation…’ and to transform and make bright the future of the world,” the NABPP says of prisoners such as Shakur.
A prolific writer, Shakur’s last poem “A Loud Whisper” shows his commitment to continue doing the work he felt needed to be done, even if it that meant the state would take his life for it:
…There’s no metaphors
Speaking the truth
“LIVE AND DIRECT FROM DEATH WATCH!!!”
yall im speaking to you
eighth cell ain’t hell
I wont run from it…
Believing in not reform but revolution, Shakur supported all conscious people, all prisoners especially those who are political, and knew that the conditions he suffered, the judicial railroading he received was inseparable from poverty, from poor education, from criminalization, from racism and white supremacism and capitalism. He knew that the astronomical rates of poverty and incarceration around black people was not a glitch in the system, even if some black people bought into that myth. “That’s where we go wrong, believing that simple shit,” he said two days before his execution. “The system is on track… it’s on track to ride over us.”
Knut Erik, Shakur’s overseas support coordinator based in Norway, said, “Derrick is at peace now, but what a great legacy he has left behind'.”
Shakur was an organizer, and worked to build organizations, institutions and more importantly other people’s capacity for leadership. He worked with a number of dynamic prisoners on death row in the Polunsky Unit: Kenneth Foster, Jr., Tony Ford, Charles “Chucky” Mamou, Jr. chiefly among them. Shakur knew that these men would continue the work they all started and hoped his supporters on the outside would continuing working for their release.
“Our people don’t prepare for the future, you know?” Shakur. “It took us damn near thirty years to recover after we lost Malcolm. We have to set it up so that things will continue even if they take us out, cause you know that’s what they’re going to do.”
Shakur wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case with the work he was doing, and from people’s reactions who have worked with him, it seems he succeeded.
Tasha Narez-Foster, a political activist and rapper from Amsterdam who is married to Kenneth Foster, Jr., wrote this to Shakur the day of his execution: “Wherever you are, bro- I love you. You are finally free. You finally have the peace you deserved. Watch over us all brother, you will never be forgotten. The struggle continues and thank you for being the strong hearted person you are. You showed many of us, that living in between the walls of death doesn't mean you'll grow numb or die your death way before you leave this earth. You'll be missed. I love you.”
There was considerable doubt about Shakur’s conviction. Given the lack of physical evidence to link him to the crime, the only substantial evidence against him was a forced confession. He was intimidated by the interrogating officer, and promised a 30 year deal in return. In the videotaped interrogation, the officer informed the 19-year-old of his right to an attorney, to which he responded, “If I could afford one, I would.” The officer began to question Shakur, despite the obvious expression for a lawyer. The National Campaign to End the Death Penalty wrote about the case, “The videotaped ‘confession’ became the prosecution’s smoking gun. With no physical evidence linking Frazier to the scene of the crime, the district attorney relied on the coerced confession to convince a nearly all-white jury that this young black defendant was, in fact, guilty of killing a white mother and child.”
Shakur’s lawyer did not mount a defense to show any mitigating circumstances, the fact that he had an abusive father, a drug addicted mother he loved dearly who overdosed when he was 15, didn’t finish the 7th grade. He did not work to show Shakur as a human being. The attorney’s career was marred by prior complaints of misconduct, and he was investigated by the State Bar and placed on probation for three years shortly after trying Shakur’s case.
Why recount these facts now, now that it is over and Shakur has been murdered? His wife and support coordinator Debbie Frazier feels its important to continue to show his innocence, to bring light to the inherent flaws in the system. ““We have to keep working, that’s what we’re going to do, we’re just going to keep working, for him, for the others. We’ll free his name.”
It’s not just Shakur’s name that he and others, in the belly of the Polunsky Unit and out on the streets, are hoping to free, but all oppressed people everywhere. Shakur said of his organizing work, two days before his death, “Watch what I’m going to do. Whether they murder me or not on Friday, I’m telling you, watch what Ima do, the ancestors are gonna be proud.”
“Today they killed his body, but his spirit will live on, like that of Che, Fred Hampton, Sr. and George Jackson,” Big Warrior intoned. “He will march beside us in the streets and stand with us at rallies and on the barricades. And when the final victory is won, he will be there in the bright future of humanity that will have been bought with martyr's blood and the struggle of generations against all oppression and for the human rights of all.”
He was the 20th Texas prisoner executed this year. There are at least seven more scheduled for the remainder of the year. Farley Matchett is next, facing an execution date of Sept. 12. This country still has over a hundred political prisoners, youth of color are criminalized and locked up at a rate akin to genocide. Shakur’s voice is in the air, saying, “We got our work cut out for us. I’m in this, so where you at? Cause if you’re down, let’s do this.”